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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 7, 1940
Stars: Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Of Fox and Hounds © Warner Bros.‘Of Fox and Hounds’ introduces Willoughby, that dumb dog that was the first of many cartoon parodies on Lon Chaney jr.’s portrayal of Lennie Small in the movie ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939).

In this cartoon he’s a rather fat hunting dog too dumb to recognize a fox when he sees one. Worse, the fox makes him fall for the same gag twice, in an extraordinarily long gag, which Avery plays out full. The fox is a clear variation on the wise guy type Avery introduced with Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘ four months earlier, without adding anything new, and he was never seen again. Willoughby, on the other hand, would encounter the hare himself in his next cartoon, ‘The Heckling Hare’, and another variation on this character type in ‘The Crackpot Quail’ (both 1941). In all, he would star in seven cartoons, the last one being Friz Freleng’s ‘Hare Force’ (1944).

In his next cartoon Willoughby would become less fat, but not smarter. Luckily not, for his all too late insights, which he shares with the audience, absolutely form the character’s main attraction. At MGM Avery would more or less return to the character in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Willoughby’s “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?” would become a catch phrase, and was also used by Lenny in that latter cartoon.

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ features high production values. It opens with a very realistic image of a hunter, followed by a beautiful shot of horses and hounds silhouetted against the morning sun. The cartoon also features remarkable oil paintings that provide great realistic backgrounds in the best academic tradition, which make all the nonsense staged in front of it more believable.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is a little too slow to be an all time winner. Avery clearly was still experimenting with timing, and in this cartoon in particular he juxtaposes slow scenes to lightning fast action, especially in the parts featuring the bear. ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ may be no classic, it’s an important entry in the evolution of Tex Avery’s films, the Warner Bros. style, and the chase cartoon in general.

Watch ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ is available on the French DVD set ‘Tex Avery’

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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 5, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Heckling Hare © Warner Bros.The dumb dog Willoughby was a minor Warner Brothers character, created by Tex Avery, and starring a few cartoons in the early 1940s.

The dog kept changing names, and that’s probably one of the reasons he never got famous. ‘The Heckling Hare’ was his third cartoon, and in it he remains nameless. Tex Avery puts him against his much more famous creation, Bugs Bunny. Penned by Michael Maltese, the result is an inspired cartoon, full of gags.

Willoughby swaps places with Elmer Fudd in hunting rabbits. He’s of course no more successful than Elmer, and Bugs tricks him a lot. The best scene is when Bugs makes the dumb dog making faces, while he puts forward a sign to the audience reading “Silly, isn’t he?”.

However, the cartoon is most famous for its finale: for it ends with a lengthy fall from a cliff by both characters. This scene is obviously cut short in the final version. Producer Leon Schlesinger didn’t like the original ending, which apparently involved no less than two other falls, and ordered the cut. Rumors have it that this was the reason for Tex Avery to leave Warner Bros. This isn’t true. Tex Avery wanted to do a series combining live action animals with animated mouths. Schlesinger wasn’t interested, so Avery ended up doing this series, Christened ‘Speaking of the Animals’ at Paramount. However, this was not a success, and by September 1941 Schlesinger was making cartoons again, now at MGM, where he would direct his greatest shorts.

In his book ‘Chuck Amuck’ Chuck Jones argues that ‘The Heckling Hare’ was the cartoon that re-established Bugs Bunny’s character, after three somewhat misguided cartoons by himself, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng. Bugs Bunny certainly is much more himself and in any of the previous cartoons. In any case, he would meet Willoughby again in the dog’s very last cartoon, ‘Hare Force’ (1944), directed by Friz Freleng, in which the dog is called ‘Sylvester’.

Watch ‘The Heckling Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 5
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: All This and Rabbit Stew

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: October 3, 1942
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Hep Cat © Warner Bros.‘The Hep Cat’ was the first Looney Tune made in color. As the Merrie Melodies already were in color, this cartoon heralded a full color era for the Leon Schlesinger studio.

In ‘The Hep Cat’ the dog Rosebud (Willoughby but with another name) tries to catch a ‘hep cat’, a feline womanizer who, on his turn, tries to get a girl, a.o. by speaking with a deep french voice, anticipating the romancing skunk Pepe Le Pew by three years. Rosebud succeeds to seduce the jive cat by using a sexy kitten-like hand puppet. He looses the chase however, and in the last shot we can see the hep cat stroking the hand puppet, saying, with a Jerry Colonna voice ” I can dream, can’t I?”.

‘The Hep Cat’ does not have much of a story, but who cares? It’s an intoxicating and jazzy cartoon, and from the moment the Hep Cat starts singing, you’re lost. The short is fast and funny, full of uninhibited sex and violence gags and throughout the picture one keeps marveling at the extreme and amazingly flexible animation from Bob Clampett’s unit.

Watch ‘The Hep Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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